As any Red Sox fan will smugly tell you, Andrew Benintendi is on the cusp of stardom. Baseball Prospectus’s Jeffrey Paternostro deemed him the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, with a 60 future value indicating he’ll be a productive regular at worst. FanGraphs’s Eric Longenhagen moved his slot up to No. 2 and his grade up to 65. On Opening Day, he showed off the potential everyone has recognized with a moonshot against Pirates ace Gerrit Cole:
Benintendi’s season line isn’t great — he’s hit .200/.333/.400 over 18 plate appearances — but a swing like that illustrates just how far the 22-year-old could go. Once he recovers from whatever illness is plaguing the entirety of Boston, he should get back on track.
With that said, Benintendi doesn’t have a ton of power — not now, and probably not ever. The aforementioned prospect writers each noted as much. Where Benintendi excels is plate discipline; Paternostro praised his “elite on-base and contact skills,” and Longenhagen wrote he “controls the zone incredibly well.” It’s here that we come to the really encouraging part of Benintendi’s 2017.
Earlier in that game, before Benintendi got the better of Cole, the roles were reversed:
In his first plate appearance of the season, Benintendi went down on strikes. No big deal, really — no one bats 1.000. Since then, though, he’s come to the plate 17 times, and struck out in none of them. Even though some of his hits haven’t fallen in, that’s helped him put pressure on defenses and indicates he should improve.
One strikeout in 18 plate appearances is impressive on its own. What Benintendi has accomplished beneath that is even better. Let’s look a little bit closer at that swing versus Cole:
Benintendi couldn’t stay alive, but he still managed to get a piece of Cole’s fastball. While it went in the books as a swinging strike, Benintendi made contact on his swing, just has he’s done on every single swing this season.
Yup, you read that correctly. Benintendi has seen 64 pitches this year, and he hasn’t whiffed at a single one. He’s the only regular player who’s pulled that off:
Whiff% leaders — 2017
Where, exactly, did this come from? Benintendi had a 7.3 percent whiff rate in 2016, so he’s always made a good amount of contact. In spring training, he vowed to become more aggressive:
“Last year I was hitting ninth and it [was] my job to see pitches and work the count and get on base before we flipped the lineup so, I still think I was aggressive at some points last year. Just trying to work on that right now.”
That would seem to bode poorly for his contact abilities — if Benintendi swings more often, and with less discernment, he’ll give himself more opportunities to miss, and make himself more likely to do so. Thus, given the importance of contact to Benintendi’s game, it’s perhaps a good thing that he’s actually swung less often this year (40.4 percent) than last year (42.7 percent).
Still, patience alone won’t accomplish anything if you don’t make your swings count. In 2016, Benintendi made contact on 82.8 percent of his cuts, with holes scattered around the zone and outside it:
The MLB contact rate last year was 79.2 percent, putting Benintendi above the average hitter. And with no clear hole to exploit — he made at least a respectable amount of contact pretty much everywhere — pitchers had a hard time consistently running the ball past him.
This probably goes without saying, but just to put it out there: Benintendi isn’t actually this good. He’ll regress toward the mean at some point — a pitcher will disguise a pitch, or he’ll just guess incorrectly, and the whiffs will come. That he’s put together this streak, though, suggests he’s taken a step forward in an area where he already excelled. He’s at the age where most hitters improve their strikeout rate, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s pulled this off.
For his career in the minors — and the majority of this came before his 22nd birthday — Benintendi struck out in 9.6 percent of his 657 plate appearances. That production was the reason Paternostro and Longenhagen lauded him, and he’s gotten even better in the majors. If Benintendi continues to make this much contact, Red Sox fans will see this face…
…a whole lot more often.
All data as of Sunday, April 9.
Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.